Making the leap with Windows Vista Beta 1

Making the leap with Windows Vista Beta 1

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So I'm on my third install of Windows Vista Beta 1 (fourth, if you include installing on Virtual PC), and I figured it's probably a good time to share some of my experiences.

On VPC:

  • If your goal is to get the full Aero Glass experience (window animations, translucent window borders, etc.), VPC is not the way to go. Virtual PC uses a standard video card based on the S3 Trio chipset, and is a virtualized 8MB video card, which is not sufficient for the highest level of the new Aero interface.
  • As with any virtual machine, make sure that you provide as much RAM as possible to the VM, and use a disk drive that's as fast as possible, and preferably not the same drive as your host OS.
  • There's a limitation on the ISO size that can be captured in Virtual PC, so if you're installing from the ISO image available on MSDN, you will not be able to simply capture the ISO as a drive in the VM. You can do one of two things instead:
    1. Burn the ISO to a DVD and capture the physical DVD drive, or
    2. Use the Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel for Windows XP to mount the ISO as a drive in the host OS, then capture that drive in the VM just as you would with a physical drive.

On older hardware

  • I installed Windows Vista Beta 1 on an Inspiron 8200 laptop (2+ years old) that still has some remaining life in it, and installed Vista as the primary OS.
  • Installation (which I kicked off from the previous OS, Windows XP) was very straightforward, requiring just a couple of pieces of information, and taking just over an hour.
  • Although the video card on the 8200 (an nVidia GeForce 440 Go) wasn't sufficient to meet the requirements for Aero Glass, Vista still installed and ran just fine, and performance was more than acceptable.

On more recent (but still not brand-new) hardware:

  • I also installed Windows Vista Beta 1 on a newer desktop/server machine, a low-end PowerEdge 400 SC with a 2.8Ghz HT P4 proc and a Radeon 9600 128 MB video card.
  • Installed dual-boot with Windows Server 2003. The machine had 3 partitions, with the original OS on D:, and installing Vista on C:.
  • Lesson Learned: Vista will archive any OS folders on the drive you install it on. For space reasons, I had my WS2K3 Program Files folder spread across both D: and C:, which made for an interesting experience when I booted back into Windows Server 2003. Fortunately, I was able to copy the archived Program Files folders back and repair the damage. Ideally, if you're installing dual-boot, you want to install to a partition with no folders related to another OS install, to avoid conflicts.
  • IMPORTANT: This is a beta, and as such, you should think carefully before installing it on a machine you wouldn't want to re-pave. My experience with installing dual-boot was fairly smooth, the above hiccup notwithstanding. That's no guarantee that your experience will be likewise. Use your own judgement as to the risk you're willing to take with your assets.
  • The great news...with this machine, after around an hour install, the machine rebooted into Windows Vista Beta 1, with the Aero Glass interface enabled. No additional driver installs were necessary to enable Aero Glass.

On a less than 1 year-old laptop:

  • Installed on a Toshiba M2 laptop with a Pentium M 2.0Ghz, 2GB of RAM, a separate 7200 RPM media bay drive, and a 64MB nVidia GeForce FX Go5200 video card, as a dual-boot with Windows XP.
  • Having learned my lesson (see above), I put Windows Vista on a completely separate physical drive with nothing on it relating to my other OS. Again, the install was pretty straightforward.
  • On this machine, Vista initially booted to the non-Aero Glass interface, no surprise given the video hardware.
  • But I really wanted to see if I could get Aero Glass going on this machine, so I went out on a limb. nVidia has published alpha drivers for Windows Vista Beta 1, which you can find here. These alone, however, aren't sufficient, since they don't natively install on a laptop. So through some MSN searching, I found LaptopVideo2Go.com, which is an enthusiast site dedicated to tweaking video drivers for mobile hardware. On this thread, some folks discuss how to get the nVidia LDDM drivers (LDDM is the new driver model for Windows Vista) to install on a laptop. IMPORTANT: Use the advice and INFs on this thread at your own risk! Again, putting alpha video drivers on a beta OS, with tweaked INFs on a machine you wouldn't want to have to rebuild is probably a big mistake.
  • So after that big warning, what did I do? Of course I did. Using one of the tweaked INFs with the alpha nVidia drivers, I got the LDDM driver to install, and was able to get Aero Glass enabled on my Toshiba M2 (see pic below).
  • Some caveats. Not surprisingly, using alpha drivers in an unsupported fashion has its downsides. For one, the max resolution I seem to be able to manage on this config is 1024x768. For another, on occasion, messing with the video settings (such as changing resolution) blanks the screen, and I end up having to restart to get it back. Given the mix of alpha and beta going on here, I think that's pretty reasonable. :-)
  • Performance is quite good, particularly given that the video hardware is on the lower end of the range being discussed for Aero Glass. While it's not necessarily indicative of what will be possible with the final version, I find it encouraging that I was able to get this to work on a laptop with a relatively mild spec video card (compared to some of the monsters available for desktop machines).

One other note...I found a site called http://www.tweakvista.com/, which has some Windows Vista tips, as well as a downloadable utility that allows you to tweak some of the settings for the Aero interface. One that I find neat is the ability to use the Shift key to slow down the window animations. This allows you to see more clearly exactly what's going on. A novelty, to be sure, but fun.

Although I did take the time to install the runtime components for Avalon and Indigo, as well as the WinFX SDK, on a couple of these machines, I have not yet taken the time to install Visual Studio 2005. Thankfully, someone pointed out the a blog entry from Dave Glover with a workaround to one of the issues that can occur with the install, so hopefully when I get to that point, it'll go as smoothly as the Windows Vista install itself.

While I approached the dual-boot installs with some trepidation (I'm generally somewhat risk-averse, but I really need to start getting up to speed on Indigo and Avalon, and where better to do that than on Windows Vista?), my experience with Windows Vista so far has left me pretty impressed. As mentioned above, the usual warnings and caveats that go with any beta still apply, but if you're feeling frisky, and have a machine you're willing to experiment on, you might just want to check it out.

  • Yeah, I had a similar problem with getting Glass working on a Toshiba P20.

    I have the same video card, but the screen is a 17" widescreen display, running at 1440 x 900. Like you, the max resolution was 1024 x 768. While it looked nice, the display was blurred.

    So, I'll wait until this issue is resolved. In the meantime, I'm using Windows Server 2003 on it - runs a treat.
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